Is there a connection between contemporary Caribbean and African literature?

Writivism

By Alexis Teyie

In October last year, Marlon James won the Man Booker Prize for his novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings. He is the first Jamaican-born author to win “Britain’s most prestigious literary award.” Earlier in 2015, Zambian writer, Namwali Serpell, won the Caine Prize – described as Africa’s leading literary award – for her short story, “The Sack,” though she explicitly disagrees with the structure of the Prize.

I am a bit anxious about reading James’s work. The violence, a need to like what has been branded Good, a fear of already missing out all make me fear I am already biased before reading. But Serpell’s story I read before the furore, before others’ admonitions and praises told me what to think about it. I lifted the sack, shook it out, and still wasn’t sure what exactly I was supposed to find – perhaps a metaphor…

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50 Surprisingly simple ways to promote your book + more from Author Unlimited

Trish Hopkinson

authorunAuthor Unlimited is a writing resource site that recently gathered book promotional ideas from its author community for the following article. This site is loaded with great articles for writers and the writing life, including ways to get inspired, best time of day to write, writing environment, goal-setting, and many quick tips articles.

You can see a list of all their articles here.

And they publish guest posts!

You can submit your own idea for an article here.

As with all submissions, read the guidelines carefully and read what you can of their previous issues to make sure your work is a good fit. Click here for more Submission Tips.

If you like this post, please share with your writerly friends and/or follow my blog or like my Facebook page.

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THIS ROAD AND I

Another heavily-laden lorry drawls past. I think it is the sixth that I have counted in ten minutes. I think this one is carrying baskets of tomatoes or bags of onions, or tubers of yam. Or something else. But certainly, not cattle nor sugarcane like the previous ones. The driver keeps honking the horn either to keep himself from drifting into sleep or to ward off lesser elements that might want to challenge his claim to the fast lane. I am beginning to think that it is something both animate and inanimate things have in common: class consciousness. The Director bullies the Manager who bullies the Supervisor who bullies the Skilled Labourer who bullies the Unskilled Labourer. The trailer bullies the van which bullies the car which bullies the motorbike which bullies the bicycles which bullies the pedestrians.
I have formed the habit of coming out to Nnamdi Azikiwe Way which runs through the west end of Kaduna, to sit all by myself on the terrace in front of the defunct Textiles Workers’ & Garments Zonal Secretariat. I go out there to listen to the chaos in my soul; to the croaking of horny frogs in the drainage channel by the shoulder of the bypass; to the mechanical sounds of everything that drives on wheels.
It is over a decade now since I first sat out here. I was seeing X off to the bypass to catch a taxi to her place. But then an issue had come up which we needed to thrash immediately. And since there was no fun in standing by the roadside and being blinded by the headlights of moving vehicles, we decided to sit on the terrace. And then it became a ritual. We would come down here with bottles of soft drink or packs of biscuit to conclude some issue or to just cling to each other in the cold night. At first X had thought it meaningless and a waste of precious time to just sit on this terrace and watch vehicles speed or crawl along the bypass. The same way she had found it weird when I suggested we strolled down to the bridge to lean on the rails and gaze at the misty river as the moon and stars danced in its ripples. But I taught her. I taught her how to see aspects of life in some of these things. How the road is the life and the vehicles are humans. Some people run on this road, some others crawl, and some others break down along the line. X learned…
Another lorry speeds past, the hum of its engine diffusing in the cold night air. It is difficult to tell the colours of vehicles, except when two or three of them drive close together, so that the lights from one shines on the other. But for much part of the night, the expressway is freer as vehicles just whizz past individually, silhouetted against the pale silvery sky. A yellow taxi slows down and finally stops by the road side. The driver turns down the ignition and then steps out to urinate into the drainage channel, coughing spasmodically and spitting out thick lumps of mucus into the ditch. I watch on with infantile curiosity, hoping that an approaching vehicle would shine light on him.
I like to gaze from the left, from where headlights approach and to where taillights recede, and sweep the view to the distant right, towards the River Kaduna Bridge. I like how the road reminds me of traveling; of people and places; of experiences. I like how the road drenches me with sweet nostalgia. Nostalgia!
But nostalgia can be tormenting too. The longer one leaves a place or a thing, the more even the most trivial of issues begin to take up unimaginable significance. One remembers vividly the smell of the backyard, the exact shape of the tree in the front of the house, the distinct clatter of the roof of the town hall. One remembers the windy footpath that leads to the stream or to the farm. All these come to the mind with strange clarity. One thinks of the town crier and his peculiar gait, the talkative woman in the next compound, the drunk who always sings at the top of his voice in the middle of the night, and even one’s enemy. Yes. One remembers one’s enemy, but no longer as an enemy because time and space will have blurred the dividing line. One remembers one’s love too. One remembered the object of one’s love, from the first moment of meeting to the last moment before parting. One remembers the smell of the other’s hair or body or breath, their skin texture and the sound of their voices. And in cold nights, when the rest of the world goes to sleep, one might lay on one’s back for hours, staring into darkness, while the provocative silence almost drives one mad. Sometimes, one’s spirit travels back to those nights when the duo clung together and whispered to each other through the night. But then sooner or later the inevitable happens: one is catapulted back to the present, to the cold and lonely room. And when that happens, it is difficult to hold back the sad smile and the countless sighs and, perhaps, quiet tear drops.
It is true that it can be a long road especially when you are all alone. But these days, sitting out by the bypass some at twilight is what I do alone until whenever I will find another crazy soul that will be willing to play such melancholic game with me.

A BALANCED DIET, THIS CLINICAL BLUES

I just hope I have not broken any copyright laws by borrowing Emmanuel Abdalmasih Samson’s copy of Clinical Blues instead of ordering mine from Ibadan as he did just few days ago. Living out here in Kaduna, one is mostly left to either order books from far away or to only hear of them on social media. I long for the day that publishing houses will partner with some of the bookstores in Kaduna so that one can be sure of laying hands on books as they come out.

This will be my first attempt at critiquing a poetry book. So, understand if it does not follow the conventional pattern.

The title of the book itself is cryptic; poetic. Some of the meanings of CLINICAL are: scientifically detached; unemotional. And apart from BLUES being a type of folksong that originated among Black Americans at the beginning of the 20th century with a melancholy sound from repeated use of blue notes, it is also a state of depression. So, where in the world do you find unemotional love songs?

“Character and fate are two words for the same thing,” says Novalis (German poet). If predestination is really to be believed, then our very character, whether shaped by nature or nurture, will lead us to the foreordained end no matter how much we strive to foil it. In Ola Rotimi’s The Gods Are Not To Blame, Odewale tries to alter the storyline but fails. And that is what I am reminded of by the first two stanzas of PROMENADE:

The deviant puppet strives

To detach fate’s pull strings

In a Beckett play.

Good luck!

And good luck to the stage actor

Who sets up a new character

From his head, from his stuttering,

Ungraceful fumble.

Beckett’s plays adheres to absurdism, a philosophical school of thought which has it that the efforts of humanity to find inherent meaning will ultimately fail. His characters try to develop thinking minds which should help them make meaning of their world, but they fail because the system does not brook free spirits; because the system is programed even before the characters are thrown into the stage. It is in vain that the puppet tries to question the status quo and tow its own path.

To clarify the confused, the third stanza of Promenade tells why it is futile to want to break from the norm and chart one’s own course: the whole show is being ‘governed by unknown forces’. Life is not a democracy. Any attempt at rebelling will be met with the world’s ‘baffled silence’ if not its sarcastic ‘Good luck!’

And by the time one seems to have learnt that rebellion does not pay, it is already too late:

Burnt once, twice

Skin and heart thickened, proof

Against future mishap,

Then I got discharged

From the theatre.

Now I am a failed actor,

The artist who lost it all

While giving it all up.

PROMENADE is also about love; about a rehabilitating swain struggling to learn what love truly means; about the non-committal who would rather not say ‘I love you too’ and is not bothered when not told ‘I love you too’.

I used to go all the way

Like a pricey prostitute.

I used to be the good husband of

Unhappy wives who would gladly

Err on the side of manhood,

The alter-boy of feminine sacrament.

But towards the end of the road, the persona is buggered by a couple of soul-searching questions most-striking of which for me is:

Aren’t humans incapable of not

Loving?…

It is true that free spirit-ness may be a cool thing when you are in your teens or even in your twenties, but not when you are fancying forty.

REQUIEM FOR A YOUNG HYPERTENSIVE is about the self-inflicted death of a ‘hitman’. It is for all the young people who have died, or will die, as a result of their reckless lifestyles. And the beauty of this poem is in the way the poet tells it unemotionally. In other words, clinically:

You fought a small war too, brother

How many lives did you strike?

At the New Buka where you gulped

Codeine and lager, wrong poisons

That lodged a clot in your brain.

Although he brings it upon himself, it is a tragedy all the same. Yes, his lady friend might mourn him for only days, his family and friends will hardly forget him nor will they forgive him for breaking their hearts. How does one forgive a child one has struggled to train in the university only for him to kill himself shortly after graduation?

REQUIEM FOR AN ASPHYXIATED NEONATE is also about death; about broken dreams and wasted resources. But this time, due to the parent’s negligence/recklessness either by commission or omission. And then it shocks you how the parents will shift the blame and move on without any feeling of guilt perhaps to repeat the same mistake again:

They will take your death as a wave of fate’s wand

Comfort themselves on a creaking bed

Fondling sour breasts.

Before you conclude that the poet’s profession which exposes him daily to death (and pain and suffering) has benumbed his emotional part, browse through LOVE SONGS (pp 20-25) and see that the poet is not immune to temptation, heartbreak, loneliness and nostalgia.

Clinical Blues is a balanced diet; a complete dose. There is at least a poem for every human situation. And unlike most success stories which hardly cover the cost of greatness, THE LIFE OF I (p 53) comes close to the mental torture Dami Ajayi must have subjected himself to while etching these poems on stone tablets.

ALIEN SIGHTING IN KADUNA, NIGERIA?

Isn’t it interesting how history often repeats itself?

Just days ago, the same lowly Mary (mother of Jesus) who was elevated to immortality by Angel Gabriel’s singular visitation has also elevated another lowly virgin to stardom. She chose to appear and communicate to the teenage daughter of one Mr. X, an orthodox/protestant family living in the outskirts of Kaduna town. As you read this, the entire perimeter of the compound has been declared holy ground. Even the well in the compound has been blessed by a priest so that people expectant of God’s touch could draw water therefrom and drink or even take home for friends and family.

Not too long ago, more people would have labeled such news of divine manifestations as a sham. They would even ridicule those that seem to believe it. But recent happenings would show a complete turn-around of that trend. What has caused this change, you might wonder. Your guess is as good as mine.

The age of reason is also that of gullibility. Otherwise, how do you explain that highly educated ladies fall over each other to be laid by a ‘man of God’ who claims to have the only solution for their barrenness? How do you explain that professors prostrate to kiss the soles of one ‘man of God’ as a mark of their loyalty to heaven? But that is a matter for another day.

The news about town is that delegates of the Church have been visiting the ground from both within the country and as far away as the Vatican. It is most likely that mass would be held at the ground this coming Sunday. It is also said that the Vatican has invited the fortunate teenage girl.

The erstwhile worthless cottage of Mr. X has become something else since after Holy Mary’s visit, to the extent that soldiers had to be deployed to ensure orderliness by the crowd that daily throng the place. The land itself has become so valuable that word around town has is that the Church has decided to purchase it with money sent all the way from Rome.

“What if for some personal reasons Mr. X refuses to sell?” I ask.

“Well”, shrugs my mother who first cast me a disappointing look, “they’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.” She doesn’t mean they would threaten or blackmail him as Mr. Michael Corleone is wont to do. Rather, she means they could offer him nine or ten times the worth of the land. She should know how these things work, my mother. She was a Catholic as a child.

“Isn’t he lucky,” I whistle.

I beg you not to be displeased that this news doesn’t seem to be covered by both local and foreign media ass it would have if this sighting had been reported in America or Europe. CNN and BBC would have kept bombarding you with updates on the case until you beg them to stop.

Apart from indirectly intervening in the economic life of some erstwhile unknown family, the teenage girl who had had the encounter with the Virgin Mary has been left with so much power and anointing that even the cripple come in contact with her and start walking. They say she hardly finds time to even eat these days, due to the growing number of people that are to be prayed for and healed. I met a guy just two days ago who claimed to have touched the wall on which Mary had leaned. According to him, the Holy Mother’s form has been left on the wall, dripped olive oil that could also heal.

When I wondered why the Virgin Mary didn’t choose to visit my rathole so that I would be the one in the centre of this vortex, my friends were quick to remind me that the teenage girl was still a virgin. Well, I might not be a virgin (I am not saying that I am not one) but I am definitely not the most sinful in God’s Books.

The message Virgin Mary brought from the Great Beyond is that the sins of the world is reaching boiling point while heaven’s mercy is reaching breaking point. In addition, she warned that the blood of the innocent which are unjustly killed daily is crying louder and louder at Heaven’s Gate.

At least, it is some consolation that heaven is aware of all the innocent blood being shed daily in this country. If for nothing, it reinforces your suspicion that there is God.

NOBODY PAYS UN-ANNOUNCED VISITS ANYMORE

In my world, very few would forget the first or the last time they embarked on a long-distance journey without having first written or called to preempt their hosts.
Mine was in 2002 when I rode all the way south to visit an uncle, a true gentleman from sole to crown. This uncle of mine, (bless his soul), was one of the “big names” in Umuahia back then so it wasn’t difficult to locate his house. I had first met him barely two years before, when I traveled for my father’s burial. It hadn’t taken many days for me to grow fond of him, and I might not be wrong to believe that he too had liked me. So, being family, it appeared so normal for me to visit him if I wished. Which was why, one fine morning, I just packed up a bag and boarded the bus to the south. Only now do I appreciate fully how out of his way he had gone to ensure I had a wonderful time throughout my one month-long visit.
Even today, many people still don’t understand why educated upper-class families
prefer you notify them and get their consent before appearing by their doorsteps. Not because you are less important to them as they might be to you, but so that they could make certain provisions before you show up, or even beg you to postpone the visit for a week or two until they are ready to receive you.
Many people are disgusted with this elite class who they claim have stripped themselves of their African values in their attempt to europeanize. Why should someone notify family members before visiting them? Many people still wonder. Why then are we family? They ask.
How can I forget the golden 80’s and 90’s when uncles and aunts visited us from various parts of the country? I still know that excitement of returning from school or playground only to find an unanticipated visiting relative lounging in the sitting room. I still know that feeling of being handed gifts I never expected. Particularly, I still remember that sweet afternoon when some dude showed up with a baggage taller than me. He said he was looking for one Mr. Frank who happened to be my father. Judging by his dimples and dentition, I could have guessed he was my father’s brother even without him saying it. Apart from knowing that I was related to some other persons outside the immediate family, it delighted me that my parents hardly used the whip on us throughout the stay of the visitors. All those were before mobile phones suddenly arrived and turned the world upside down. You now get to call and get approvals from prospective hosts before you even embark. Now your nieces and nephews specify over the phone what gifts they expect you to bring for them. Where, then, is the fun of it?
Indeed, there is that inconvenience in making provision for shelter and food for the un-welcomed visitor. Of going to collect food items on credit from nearby shop owners in order to cook something good enough to present before the guest. Needless to say, we children looked forward to having visitors in the house because of the change in food quality and quantity. Also, you might not be wrong to guess that despite all the inconveniences, the host would feel that bitter-sweet delight few days after the guest had left, and even look forward to a re-visit in the not-too-distant future.
But then as somebody I know very well will always say, GOODBYE TO ALL THAT.